Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Shifts at the top

Update: Sen. Don Harmon, the Oak Park Democrat sponsoring the agreed upon ethics reform, said last night he hopes to call the measure in committee today.

Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson, a Crete Democrat, was replaced on the powerful Senate Rules Committee by Sen. Rickey Hendon, a Chicago Democrat, today.

The committee controls which pieces of legislation advance to floor debate and which are held.

Halvorson said she was surprised and that it wasn’t her decision, but she felt as though the move by Senate President Emil Jones Jr. would allow her to refocus on serving as majority leader in the last month of scheduled session when so many things hang in the air.

“The Senate president felt that it was a distraction because every little thing was taken out of context, put into somebody else’s context and was keeping us from doing what was important,” she said.

For the past few months, Halvorson received criticism for holding in the Rules Committee a constitutional amendment that would allow voters to decide whether to recall elected officials. A broader measure eventually was called for a vote but narrowly failed on the Senate floor. Halvorson also was called a roadblock to highly anticipated ethics reform that would ban state contractors from donating to the officeholders who grant the contracts. The ethics reform could come up for a vote soon, according to House and Senate sponsors who announced an agreement last week.

Halvorson said she supported each of those measures despite being on the opposite side of the issues from the Senate president.

“It’s no secret that I was for the recall,” Halvorson said. “I was for the pay-to-play legislation. I’m anti-pay raise. I think I was causing a few too many problems.”

Cindy Davidsmeyer, spokeswoman for the Senate president, added: “She needs to focus on the issues that concern her Senate district and not be responding to claims that are baseless. In deciding to take her off Rules, this will allow her to better focus on the issues in her Senate district.”

Davidsmeyer added that Halvorson's bid for Congress has nothing to do with the decision, although Halvorson said the "unnecessary" controversy over highly publicized legislation wouldn't have happened if she weren't running for Congress.

Halvorson faces Republican Martin Ozinga, president of a concrete and construction firm, and Green Party candidate Jason Wallace to replace Republican U.S. Rep. Jerry Weller in the district southwest of Chicago.

Note: The House rejected granting pay raises to its members this afternoon. The Senate must do the same for the raises not to take effect.

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